NEWMAN - Local residents and other consumers could soon see their monthly water bills climb.
The city is moving forward with a proposed water rate hike which would increase the average monthly cost for a typical residential user by nearly 30 percent in November and by 80 percent from today’s rate as of November 2023.
The City Council paved the way for the proposed increase to advance by approving a rate study without comment at its July 23 meeting.
Before the rate hikes can be adopted, however, consumers will have a say.
The city must hold a protest election as required under the terms of Proposition 218, which gives the public the opportunity to block the proposed increases if objections representing more than 50 percent of parcels are lodged. Those notices were mailed out to property owners of record last week.
For a typical single family residential user who consumes 1,100 cubic feet of water monthly, the current bill of $27.81 would increase to $35.84 when the new rates are enacted in November. A series of annual increases would take the typical monthly residential bill to $50.59 as of November 2023, according to the study.
“We have not done a rate study since 2012, and you should be doing one every three to five years. This is an enterprise fund, so we can only use these funds to pay for these services. The study shows what the costs are so that what you are charging corresponds directly to the service being provided,” City Manager Michael Holland explained. “We have to make sure that we are collecting the right amount of money to provide safe, reliable water for the residents.”
The proposed rate increases in part reflect debt service on an $8.6 million project to build a new well, million-gallon storage tank and transmission system at a Jensen Road site north of the city.
While the city has received several hundred thousand dollars in grant money for design and drilling of the well, City Manager Michael Holland said, no grant money is available for the construction phase. The city does hope to get low-interest financing on the project, he noted, but must also be able to demonstrate an ability to repay those funds.
That project, he told Mattos Newspapers, “is a long-term improvement that should sustain the city for the next 15-20 years.”
Holland said the project is sized to not only correct deficiencies in the existing system that serves current residents but also accommodate the planned Northwest Newman project.
“We (currently) need additional capacity in terms of pumping and storage. We just up-sized it to make sure that we included enough for Northwest Newman so we didn’t have to do it twice,” Holland said. “We get the economies of scale that go with that.”
The rate study also reflects increasing operational costs in areas such as energy and personnel, as well as needed improvements to the existing water infrastructure, Holland noted.
In one change from the current rate structure, the city is proposing to eliminate the tiered pricing system and adopt a flat fee per every unit (or 100 cubic feet) of water consumed. Systems dedicated strictly to landscaping irrigation would be assessed a higher per unit fee than standard residential systems. Consultant Catherine Hansford, who presented the rate study, said public education has proven more effective than tiered water rates in promoting water conservation.
Currently, Hansford said, Newman’s city water rates are the lowest among a dozen cities surveyed. The first-year increase still leaves Newman rates lower than seven of the cities surveyed, according to her study.
Lewis Humphries, the city’s finance director, said the Prop. 218 notices were mailed to parcel owners July 24. A public hearing on the proposed rate increases is scheduled before the City Council on Sept. 10, he said. Protest votes must be submitted in writing prior to the close of the public hearing in order to be recorded. Information and instructions on filing a protest vote are included in the notice. Protests may be submitted by either a property owner or a tenant, Holland said, but only one protest vote per parcel is counted.